SEC M5: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 28th, 2012

  1. There has been a lot of speculation and curiosity as to why Missouri‘s Michael Dixon was suspended indefinitely without reason a few months ago. On Tuesday, the Kansas City Star reported that the star Tigers guard had been accused of forcible rape on August 20 but not charged by the district attorney due to insufficient evidence. The police report, disclosed earlier this month, states that the case was “a thorough investigation” and that it “was determined that the evidence was not sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury,” according to Tracy Gonzalez of the Boone County (MO) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Dixon, who is still serving his team suspension, will not be punished criminally, but he could face additional consequences from the school after decisions are made by the Student Conduct Committee and the Chancellor (see: Dez Wells).
  2. After putting a terrible Maui Invitational performance behind them and accepting the changes needed to make from the trip, Rick Ray and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are looking forward. The first step is to get players (and coaches) back healthy. Ray returned to the sidelines Tuesday night versus Alcorn State after battling a stomach virus that kept him ill during the trip to Maui. Also, the Bulldogs got forward Colin Borchert back from a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Borchert contributed six points on 2-of-5 shooting in the Bulldogs’ 60-44 win. While only scoring 60 points, the Dogs held ASU to only 28.3% shooting and 18 rebounds, a subtle move in the right direction.
  3. Veteran head coach Billy Donovan knows when to turn a negative situation into a teaching lesson. It has been two weeks since Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated by the university but the savvy coach will still not yet start Wilbekin in his normal place in the lineup. Wilbekin was replaced by veteran Mike Rosario due to Wilbekin’s suspension and will continue to come off the bench until otherwise determined. Rosario has averaged 11 points a game in his place, compared to only nine points a game for Wilbekin off the bench. Donovan is using this situation as a teaching moment for Wilbekin until he can earn his spot back in the starting rotation.
  4. There isn’t much hype about Arkansas shooters in the SEC when they have to contend with the likes of Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee, but Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn is determined to make sure one of the Razorbacks’ top scorers receives some publicity this season. Junior Mardracus Wade was recently named one of the 16 best shooters in the country by Winn in an SI.com slideshow. Wade leads the Hogs in minutes played this season and he is shooting 40% from beyond the arc. The recent high praise for Wade and his team hopefully proves true soon, especially with a brutal non-conference slate still ahead on the menu. If things work out, Wade could join stellar sophomore BJ Young as another solid scoring option and could help lead Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons.
  5. With talk about Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele as major contributors to Alabama‘s offense, the star veteran guards had to sit out Tuesday’s game versus Lamar due to injury and illness. Luckily, the Crimson Tide did not need them as they routed Lamar, 75-47. While a win over lowly Lamar was expected, what was more interesting was coach Anthony Grant‘s positive comments regarding his bench players who played significant minutes tonight. Grant was quoted in saying that he “believes in each and every one of these guys that we coach on a daily basis” and that’s the “motivation for me is to try to help them achieve the things they want to achieve and help our team achieve the things we want to achieve.” Grant’s mindset and coaching ability will help maximize the potential from these bench players who would not normally get time if Releford and Steele were healthy. Hopefully, Alabama can get both Releford (stomach virus) and Steele (groin) back quickly as they have to face #17 Cincinnati, Dayton, and VCU all within the next three weeks.
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SEC M5: 11.27.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 27th, 2012

  1. After a disastrous showing in the Maui Invitational, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray has spent the last few days reflecting on his team’s performance in Hawaii. Ray, who also battled a stomach virus while on the trip, discussed several reasons why the Bulldogs underperformed in the tournament. Ray said that his squad, while losing by an average of 29 points per game, “played harder than the other teams for the most part” and a lot of the second-chance opportunities for opponents came from MSU’s rebounding woes. He also noted that the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio (1:2) “needs to be rectified before beating anybody that’s a quality opponent.”
  2. Tennessee got into the Cyber Monday/holiday spirit yesterday by offering $7 tickets to any men’s or women’s basketball home game other than those versus Kentucky for the rest of the season. The promotion, while ending at 7 pm on Monday (sorry), was good for any seat in the 300-level section of Thompson-Boling Arena. There is no official word on whether the online deal resulted in an increase in ticket sales, but such a promotion on Cyber Monday surely could not have hurt the Vols’ chances of packing the arena for their remaining games — especially with great games ahead including Wichita State, Memphis, Xavier, Alabama, Florida, and Missouri all coming to Knoxville this season.
  3. How has Alabama grown this season? The work of veterans Trevor Releford, Andrew Steele, and Trevor Lacey have combined for 37.8 points per game (54% of the team’s scoring) along with an outstanding 2.57 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. With Rodney Cooper (15 PPG/4 RPG) currently out due to shoulder tendinitis, heralded freshman Devonta Pollard emerged as a fourth contributor in keeping the Crimson Tide undefeated, and was listed as one of Al.com‘s three points of the game regarding Alabama’s win over Charleston Southern last weekend. Pollard, who came into that game averaging only four points per outing, was able to control the game to the point where he “could take advantage of his God-given talents”, as stated by coach Anthony Grant. With a healthy Cooper expected back in the lineup as well as a star freshman quickly learning the college game through ample playing time, the Tide could become another legitimate contender for the SEC title.
  4. It seems to be exact opposites in the state of Mississippi this year: Ole Miss has the advantage over in-state rival Mississippi State in basketball while the Bulldogs hold the upper hand on the gridiron. Ole Miss already has five wins in its first five games this season on the hardwood compared to the Bulldogs’ single victory. Of course, Ole Miss has the advantage of not enduring the change of leadership and player exodus that has occurred in Starkville over the last few seasons. The Rebels’ Murphy Holloway was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, and even while winning versus low-quality opponents, Ole Miss still has a projected higher season win total (22-7, 12-6) than Mississippi State (9-21, 3-15), according to KenPom.com. Regardless of the quality of opponents and game results, the momentum on the hardwood is clearly in Oxford this season.
  5. The learning curve in the SEC might come quicker than imagined for South Carolina‘s Frank Martin.  The Gamecocks concluded their holiday festivities by winning the Hoops for Hope Classic over Arkansas-Little Rock in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last weekend. Martin’s squad, now 5-1 on the season, is quickly gaining confidence with each win they accrue in the non-conference schedule. A win over St. John’s this week in the SEC/Big East Challenge could give the Gamecocks the momentum they need as they face rival Clemson next week. Wins over both teams could serve to propel South Carolina to an outstanding 12-1 non-conference record before playing Mississippi State in its first SEC game in early January. As the games will become more difficult in the waning months of the season, more wins now could help ease the pain later on for Martin and his young, inexperienced squad.
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SEC M5: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2012

  1. Florida’s Scotty Wilbekin was reinstated for Sunday’s game against Middle Tennessee State after missing the first three games of the season because of a suspension. Billy Donovan felt that Wilbekin had suffered enough, though both still refuse to cite the reason the point guard was suspended. “I think he certainly paid the price of missing three games, three pretty big games to start his junior season,” Donovan said. “I think he missed out on the opportunity to play on the ship (versus Georgetown), and then the home opener against Alabama State and then playing the other night against Wisconsin. I think he has definitely paid the price.” In Wilbekin’s return, he came off the bench to add eight points, three rebounds, and three assists in the Gators’ 66-45 victory.
  2. Prior to playing the Blue Raiders on Sunday, The Gators were impressive in a 74-56 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday. Winning by 18 over a Top 25 team shouldn’t draw many complaints, but Donovan had one area of concern. After a full season of struggling to get the ball to center Patric Young in 2011-12, Florida is still struggling to feed the post again this year. Donovan said many of Florida’s 12 first half turnovers were because of poor passes down low. “We’ve got to do a better job in practice,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to work on that because there are times Patric has got great post position and we are not getting him the ball and then we did throw it, we turn the ball over.” In looking at this situation another way, Young also contributed five of the Gators’ 20 turnovers in the contest. If Florida’s guards get the big man the ball, he needs to take better care of it.
  3. In an impressive 77-55 win over Villanova over the weekend, Alabama again showed that its three-point struggles from a season ago may be a thing of the past. In 2011-12, the Crimson Tide shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, but are knocking them down at above a 40 percent rate in four games this year. In fact, against Villanova the Tide shot better from behind the three point line (9-15 for 60%) than they did at the charity stripe (18-31 for 58.1%). Sophomore Trevor Lacey, who already has a game-winning three-pointer on his resume this season, has been the most consistent shooter connecting on 11-of-18 (61%) from downtown. If the Tide can continue to shoot their way through the schedule, Anthony Grant’s 2-3 zone can keep Alabama in almost any game.
  4. Speaking of lights-out three-point shooting, Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer has been on fire behind the arc. Wiltjer knocked down a career-high seven three pointers on Friday night against Lafayette, after struggling to score just five points against Duke in the previous game. After watching his forward’s shots taken away by the Blue Devils, head coach John Calipari issued him a challenge. “He has to work hard to create the shot before he catches,” Calipari said. “If he doesn’t, I’m going to play Willie (Cauley-Stein). That’s just how it is. I’m telling you what I told him. If you don’t work hard to create space and a shot for yourself — before you catch the ball, and I’m watching, you’re out. So (Friday) what he did, he is personally in the second half, he saw gaps, erased to those gaps and guys found him also, and he made shots.” Obviously, Wiltjer could be a huge difference maker in Kentucky’s offensive game plan if he does the work to become a major part of it.
  5. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t panic after Tennessee made a startlingly low 13 field goals in a loss to Oklahoma State on Friday. It is November, after all. “It’s early and that was just one of those days,” Martin said. And one of Martin’s starting forwards, Jeronne Maymon, is sidelined with a knee injury meaning the coach is looking for answers. “We make subtle adjustments as a staff to better suit our personnel and help those guys grow and get better in those roles. Now, all the sudden those guys are playing more minutes. You’ve got to identify your bench and rotations and the guys have to make basketball plays.” Of course, Martin’s relaxed nature paid off as the Volunteers rebounded to beat Massachusetts 83-69 on Sunday behind a career-high 24 points from Jarnell Stokes.
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SEC M5: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 15th, 2012

  1. Preseason tournaments aren’t always just about the basketball, as teams travel to exciting destinations like Maui, Puerto Rico, or New York City. So is Anthony Grant planning anything fun for his team’s visit to the Big Apple for the 2KSports Classic this weekend? “Yes,” claims the Alabama coach. “We are going to play basketball.” The Crimson Tide are all business on this trip. Oregon State will be joining them at Madison Square Garden, and although the Beavers don’t have a history of scaring anyone, they appear to have their best team in years. The Pac-12 foe has a post game that can exploit Alabama’s interior weakness, but their lax perimeter defense should provide the Crimson Tide with plenty of open looks from deep. These contrasting strengths will produce some open-ended basketball. Maybe the Crimson Tide will even be allowed some off-the-court fun in the big city if they can take care of the Beavers Thursday night.
  2. I wrote yesterday that Florida’s offense could struggle against Wisconsin with star guard Kenny Boynton playing out of position, creating a mini-ballhandling crisis. The Gators did have trouble in taking care of the ball by committing 20 turnovers against the Badgers, but you don’t need to make the most of your possessions when you shoot as well as Florida did in its 74-56 win. Erik Murphy in particular put in a masterful performance — the senior forward, still recovering from an illness, shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the field for 24 points, not to mention the eight boards (four offensive) he tallied. Murphy’s offensive versatility was on full display against a Badger team that ranked 7th nationally in defensive efficiency last season. The Gators’ 62% field goal percentage clearly isn’t sustainable for the long haul of the season, but when suspended point guard Scottie Wilbekin regains his eligibility, the Florida offense has all the pieces to become a juggernaut.
  3. Kentucky’s vaunted 2013 recruiting class moved a few steps closer to becoming official yesterday, as Marcus Lee and Derek Willis signed national letters of intent. But the good news didn’t stop there. Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who had originally intended to wait until April to sign, will instead sign with the Wildcats before the end of signing period, according to the twins’ father, and James Young is expected to follow suit. While there was no reason to think that the Harrison twins were wavering in their decision to come to Lexington, Wildcat fans will love to see the pen hit paper. Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class is already being touted as one of the best ever, and Calipari is still in the running for almost every other top uncommitted player.
  4. In AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli, Kevin Stallings has become accustomed to having a reliable center patrolling the paint at Memorial Gym. He may have to do without that this season, but he won’t wait much longer than that after Damian Jones became Vanderbilt’s first 2013 commitment. The 6’9” defensive specialist from Baton Rouge spurned nearby LSU to sign with the Commodores. “I really like the coaches and players, and they have a really good work ethic,” Jones said when asked what attracted him to Vanderbilt. “That’s what I like and what I’m used to. Coach Stallings makes sure they work hard.” According to 247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer, Jones may not have the offensive skill set of Ogilvy or Ezeli, but he is an elite athlete who will be a dominant rebounder. Stallings doesn’t have a ton of talent in Nashville at the moment, but Jones makes for a great start in his efforts to fix that with his next recruiting class.
  5. Auburn will face several quality players in the conference season, but they might just have their toughest individual test of the year against Isaiah Canaan and Murray State tonight. Coach Tony Barbee isn’t taking the challenge lightly. “Murray State is a very talented team. The guys they have returning with Isaiah Canaan being a preseason first-team All-American and how great he was last year from the point guard position. He has the ability to score and get everyone involved.” Dexter Fields and Stacy Wilson join Canaan in a backcourt that will have a distinct advantage over the Tigers, so don’t be surprised if Barbee encourages his team to feed center Rob Chubb early and often. The 6’10″ senior will enjoy a height advantage over the Racers’ frontcourt, and has shown that he can score if his guards can find him in advantageous positions. With an off shooting night from Canaan and Barbee finding the right matchups to exploit, the Tigers could give themselves some momentum early in the season.
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SEC M5: 11.12.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 12th, 2012

  1. Point guard is widely considered the biggest question mark in Kentucky’s title defense, and Wildcat fans were hoping to see new floor general Ryan Harrow satisfy the skeptics with a strong debut against Maryland. However, with the NC State transfer battling flu-like symptoms, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Jarrod Polson provided fans with a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. The former walk-on played 22 minutes (by far a career-high), scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and coolly sank two clinching free throws in the dying seconds. Why was a complete unknown able to have such an impact? Practice. “One of the overlooked benefits to all those No. 1 recruiting classes Calipari reels in year after year is the daily competition,” writes John Clay, “where terrific players and accomplished athletes go head to head as a matter of routine.” In Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Harrow, Polson has faced a murderer’s row of opposing ball handlers in his three years of practice in Lexington. With competition like that, Maryland’s Pe’shon Howard couldn’t possibly be a problem.
  2. When Rick Ray was hired to replace coach Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State, he wasn’t only responsible for retooling a basketball team. He was charged with rebuilding a program’s reputation. They’ve had plenty of talent over the last few seasons, but the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the dreaded “underachiever” label. Off the court issues plagued the team as well, with Renardo Sidney’s countless shenanigans the most notable. Fortunately, Ray isn’t seeing any lingering signs of questionable character in his players. “The biggest thing I’m happy about with the team so far is they are giving the effort,” Ray told Starkville Daily News, “That is one thing I have not had to coach here so far.” That effort may be all Ray can count on from a team that returns very little talent and boasts very little depth. These deficiencies were exposed in a 56-53 defeat to Sun Belt also-ran Troy (the SEC’s only opening weekend loss). Ray is optimistic about what he sees from his squad, but consider it a surprise if the Bulldogs aren’t sitting in the SEC cellar by the end of the season.
  3. Tennessee wins the award for most misleading score of the weekend. The nine-point margin doesn’t inspire much confidence when the opponent is Kennesaw State (3-28 last season), but the Volunteers were predictably dominant in their season opener. “You have to take pride in dominating teams when you have the opportunity,” coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. Tennessee held a 25-point lead midway through the second half, before mental slippage (Martin’s term, not mine) allowed the Owls to chip away at the lead. The Volunteers put on a clinic for their Atlantic Sun opponent, shooting over 60% from the field and hitting 58% from long range. Usual high scoring and rebounding forward Jarnell Stokes displayed his versatility by tallying five assists and five steals, both career highs. Tennessee heads to Puerto Rico next, and with possible matchups against Oklahoma State and NC State in the Caribbean, mental slippage will have to be avoided.
  4. Which SEC team utilized the most guard-heavy lineup on opening night? Has to be Missouri right? Wrong. In Alabama’s buzzer-beating win over South Dakota State, coach Anthony Grant relied greatly on his backcourt options, with guards accounting for 66 of the Crimson Tide’s 70 points. Trevor Releford led the way with 18, while Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beating three gave Alabama the win over a quality Jackrabbits team. The Trevors lead a deep unit, but Grant will need Devonta Pollard to provide some balance in the form of low-post production. The highly touted recruit hasn’t delivered thus far, but his coach isn’t worried. “He’s going to be terrific,” said Grant, “This is a heck of a game for a freshman to come into.”
  5. Missouri will need Michael Dixon to compete with the elite in the SEC, but his indefinite suspension for the Tigers’ 83-69 win over SIU-Edwardsville gave coach Frank Haith quite a bit of freedom to see his backcourt newcomers in action. Dixon and point guard Phil Pressey have unquestioned starting positions, but with no other returnees, developing chemistry and finding the right rotation is paramount for Missouri. Transfers Earnest Ross and Keion Bell joined the starting five, but in going 2-for-10 and 3-for-8 from the field, respectively, neither impressed. Canadian freshman Negus Webster-Chan made a case for more playing time, however, displaying a nice shooting stroke and active hands on the defensive end.
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SEC M5: 11.06.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 6th, 2012

  1. The list of ineligible players in the SEC adds another as Texas A&M’s Shawn Smith was ruled a partial qualifier over the weekend. Smith, a freshman guard on the Aggies’ roster, will only be allowed to practice with the team this season. He will be eligible next season as a redshirt freshman and still have four years of eligibility remaining. Smith joins Missouri’s Michael Dixon and Dominique Bull as well as Dai-Jon Parker from Vanderbilt as the most recent SEC players to be removed from action. Those three suspensions are ongoing and the respective schools have not released any information as to the causes for their sanctions.
  2. The expectations for typical freshmen are usually low but not at a school like Kentucky. John Calipari’s system of high-caliber freshmen coupled with the ridiculous love and support of the Wildcat fans raises the expectations of their freshmen exponentially. Will  Totten at Kentucky Sports Radio wrote a piece comparing the statistics of freshmen in the Calipari era to other freshmen across the country and the reasons why the Wildcat freshmen’s numbers are slightly higher than the national averages. With everything involved with Kentucky basketball, those reasons seem pretty obvious.
  3. After his visit to Auburn where he was quoted by stating he wanted to be “the face of the program,” class of 2013 recruit Austin Nichols will not be committing to any SEC school this fall. Instead, Nichols chose Memphis on Monday over Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, becoming the fifth commitment to the Tigers program in the class of 2013. Each of the SEC teams he considered could have significantly benefited from adding a five-star recruit next year, as Kentucky and Florida have recently been the only league programs regularly signing that level of high school talent.
  4. Many coaches have mutual respect for one other, stemming from their success on the court and character off it. But does that respect come from actions that took place in a high school decades ago? Frank Martin thinks it does. Martin, who is in his first year as the head coach at South Carolina, stated in an Alabama.com article that his first college essay was about Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, describing his hard work ethic and humble attitude when both he and Grant attended Miami Senior High School together. The same degree of respect goes the other way from Grant to Martin as well, as Grant has in the past described his relationship with Martin as like a ‘relative,’ stating he has been very close to him in almost every aspect of life.
  5. With a healthy Jeronne Maymon in tow, Tennessee is considered by many as a dark horse pick for the SEC crown. The problem is that Maymon is not healthy. The 6’7″ senior who spent the offseason rehabilitating the second knee surgery of his career is still on the sidelines for the Volunteers with still no timetable for his return. Cuonzo Martin and the rest of his squad is learning how to practice without Maymon in the lineup and are drafting a strategy for the season once he is healthy. With Maymon out, that means more practice time for Quinton Chievous, a redshirt freshman who could take Maymon’s place because of his speed and perimeter shooting. The injury also forces highly touted returning sophomore Jarnell Stokes to take a more pivotal role in the Vols’ game plan as well as providing leadership on and off the court.
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Happy Halloween From the SEC: Which School Represents Which Candy?

Posted by KAlmekinder on October 31st, 2012

As we preview the SEC this season, the focus this week is on Halloween, the junk food-centered holiday predominantly celebrated by children or college kids, who both have different motives when this date comes around on the calendar every year. While the ghosts and goblins knock on doors asking for their sweet tooth tithes tonight, we pose the question: Which Halloween candy represents each SEC school? The analogies might surprise you.

What Kinds of Candy Are the 12 SEC Schools This Year?

  • Alabama – M&M’s. The always consistent M&M’s can never disappoint, even with variable options such as peanut butter and peanut. This year marks Year Four of the Anthony Grant Experience in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide are coming off consecutive 20-win seasons and are building a case to challenge more prominent schools for their place in the SEC pecking order. Returning senior Jalen Steele, sophomore sharpshooter Trevor Lacey and skilled freshman Devonta Pollard will provide skill and reliability for Anthony Grant as the Tide battles a tough non-conference slate, including Purdue, Villanova, Cincinnati, and Grant’s previous school, VCU. A 2o-plus win season in Alabama, coming off another dominant season on the gridiron, will have fans in Tuscaloosa cheering all season long.
  • ArkansasMilky Way. Like the Milky Way bar in its history, Arkansas basketball has lost some luster from its national championship ways in the early 1990s. Over time, better teams and chocolate bars have gained popularity while leaving little respect for this program and its chocolate. Arkansas has not been to the NCAA Tournament in four years and is 17 years removed from its last Final Four appearance. Now on their third coach since Nolan Richardson’s firing in 2002, head coach Mike Anderson is working to reinvigorate the “40 minutes of hell” style of play that his mentor used to gain attention almost two decades ago. The Milky Way bar has done the same; changes to the texture, size, and taste to attract more buyers might have done more harm than good. Maybe a trip back to their standard will be more profitable too.
  • AuburnSmarties. The Smarties are the consistently bad candy; they can always be found in a jumbo pack of other powder-type candies for cheap and are always the last Halloween candy eaten — usually on the day after Thanksgiving. Auburn basketball has consistently been the Smarties of the SEC. Since the 2003-04 season, Auburn has finished in the bottom three of the conference standings in all but one year. Fans no doubt see basketball as the dead period between fall football games and spring football practice. There is some hope on the horizon, however, as Auburn is in the mix with ESPN Top 100 recruit Austin Nichols and was quoted to say he “wanted to be the face of the program.” Head coach Tony Barbee, his staff, and players hosted a  free “Barbee-Q” for all Auburn students on Monday night. Maybe weekly free food and an elite recruit could help invigorate some life into the basketball program; or maybe just feed some college kids so they take a break from eating ramen every night. Read the rest of this entry »
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Devonta Pollard Has Big Shoes to Fill at Alabama

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 22nd, 2012

Freshman Devonta Pollard will be counted upon to be a major contributor for Alabama this season. The 6’8″ forward is replacing not one all-SEC performer, but two in departed forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green and Mitchell combined to contribute over 41 percent of Alabama’s scoring by themselves in helping lead the Tide to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 last season. Despite these high expectations, Pollard is proving he can be an effective leader in his own right.

Devonta Pollard Will Be A Major Force In The Middle For Anthony Grant. (Photo: Barking Carnival)

Thus far in practice, Pollard has drawn high praise from the coaching staff. Head coach Anthony Grant is happy with what he has seen so far. He’s doing well,” Grant said. “Obviously as a freshman, there’s a lot to learn in what the expectations are, the system and what-not, but … the veteran guys have done a good job of helping that learning curve for him. He has a very high basketball IQ as well, so he’s been able to pick things up.” Pollard has made an impression on his teammates as well. When asked how Pollard will impress fans this season, sophomore guard Levi Randolph said, “Just his energy. His skill. He can fly, he can jump, he can shoot, he can dribble. He’s going to be a great asset to the team.”

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Morning Five: 09.28.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2012

  1. And so it begins? The NCAA has fairly or unfairly taken a beating in recent months over its handling of just about everything from its use of player likenesses to academic scandals to jewelry purchases to replacement refs (ok, maybe not the last one). For the most part, the federal and state governments have kept their noses out of it, preferring to let the NCAA as a private organization operate under its own auspices. But with billions of dollars flowing through the nation’s top athletic universities via lucrative sports media deals, and a general sentiment held by the public that the NCAA fosters an environment of exploiting its student-athletes, California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill called the “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.” This new law, which by virtue of their size will only impact the four Pac-12 schools located in the Golden State, will require greater protections for the players at those schools in terms of medical coverage, scholarship guarantees, and due process. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and other states are no doubt watching closely to determine if they want to follow suit. We’ll have more on this interesting and important topic later today.
  2. Luke Winn has been in his Brooklyn-based math lab crunching the numbers in anticipation of the new college basketball season, and as always, his insights answer questions that most people didn’t even know they had. In his latest piece at SI.com, Winn explores the “exploitable gap” in balancing the scheduling of non-conference games for the purpose of maximum RPI juice while not particularly taxing the team in its bottom line (taking losses). He finds two case studies of “Scheduleball” to illustrate his point — Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, and Colorado State under Tim Miles — with each showing how the formula of scheduling top 50 and top 100 opponents and avoiding games against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI is a key recipe for success. There are other ways to manipulate schedules to your RPI advantage, of course, but as Winn clearly argues, as long as the formula continues to use winning percentage as a proxy for schedule strength, there will continue to be flaws in the RPI system.
  3. While we continue on the theme of smart people doing smart things, the US Supreme Court will reconvene for its October term on Capitol Hill next week. One of the most controversial cases that it will consider next month has gotten the notice of many head coaches around the game because the issue involves the holistic approach of using race as a factor in college admissions decisions. While the cynics out there might believe that the self-interested coaches are merely trying to protect their own players in their defense of affirmative action, the truth is that athletes are usually admitted through other loopholes anyway. But their interest in the law (last upheld by SCOTUS in 2003) is to ensure a diverse campus environment that their players will find welcoming beyond the basketball court. This can play a huge role in recruiting, especially when often dealing with athletes largely from minority communities. Oral arguments will occur on October 10 with a decision due next spring.
  4. Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has gradually improved his Crimson Tide program since arriving in Tuscaloosa just over three years ago. His first team struggled, but he followed that up with an NIT runner-up finish in 2010-11 and an NCAA appearance in 2011-12, the school’s first since 2006. His teams get after it defensively and there’s no reason to believe given this recruiting and coaching abilities that the Tide will drop off from the NCAA level anytime soon. His bosses have noticed, as Grant was rewarded this week with a one-year extension through the 2018-19 season and a raise to $1.9 million per year (ahem, still well below Nick Saban’s  $5.6 million per year deal). With many of the traditional “SEC West” basketball programs still in transition, Grant has a golden opportunity over the next five years to turn Alabama into the top program in that geographic slice of the conference.
  5. We’ll finish with something from earlier this week on Ken Pomeroy‘s site. According to the stats guru, there were only 17 games last season where a team had less than a one percent chance of winning at any point during the game and came back to do so. The only game most of us were likely to have watched finished at #8 on his list — the early February Duke vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill — also known as the Austin Rivers shot game. With UNC up 10 points and 2:38 remaining on the clock, Pomeroy’s win probability states that the Blue Devils at that point only had a 0.62% chance to win the game. For those of us more accustomed to Vegas-style odds to make sense of the world, that converts to a 1-in-162 chance. And yet, “Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish.”  And remember, that game represents only the eighth least likely comeback — get over there to read about the 16 others.
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SEC Transition Basketball: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by Brian Joyce on August 3rd, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Alabama.

State of the Program

After being left out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Anthony Grant and his Alabama Crimson Tide were determined to find its way into the Big Dance last season. The Tide achieved their goal, hearing their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 2006 behind one of the best defenses in the country. But it certainly didn’t come easily. Grant suspended his star players towards the end of the season, and then suspended several more. Forward Tony Mitchell was eventually suspended for the remainder of the season, and ultimately dismissed from the team. But Grant established that this was his team, and winning would not come at the expense of the character and integrity of his program.

Anthony Grant no longer has JaMychal Green around on the inside, but returns 2nd team postseason All SEC honoree Trevor Releford.

Alabama has a lot of work to do to hear its name called on Selection Sunday in 2013. Despite Mitchell and graduating senior JaMychal Green moving on, there is plenty of talent left in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s smothering 2-3 zone, a defense that helped hold opponents to 39 percent shooting last season, will again frustrate SEC offenses. But it was a lack of three-point efficiency on the offensive end that allowed opposing defenses to collapse inside, stalling the Tide’s offense. Junior Trevor Releford leads a young core of sophomores Trevor Lacey, Nick Jacobs, and Levi Randolph and freshman Devonta Pollard that needs to find a way to score some points. It simply won’t come easily without an outside shooter to stretch the defense. Does Alabama have a shooter capable of being an outside threat ? Can Pollard and Jacobs replace the inside void left by Green and Mitchell? Grant has a number of questions to answer, but with distractions aside Alabama has an opportunity to build on its success with another taste of the postseason, and this time perhaps the ability to stick around a little longer.

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SEC Weekly Five: 07.13.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on July 13th, 2012

  1. On Thursday, former Kentucky star and No. 1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Davis was summoned to Las Vegas to rejoin the US Olympic Team after Blake Griffin twisted his knee. If Davis makes the trip the London, he will give the SEC representation on the men’s basketball team for the fifth time out of the six Olympic teams featuring professionals. Davis faced off against his former college coach, John Calipari, as Team USA played the Dominican Republic in an exhibition game, destroying them. Davis scored nine points in just under 10 minutes of action late in the game.
  2. Also on Thursday, the first ticketing options for Florida’s opening night matchup with Georgetown on the deck of a U.S. Naval aircraft carrier at Mayport was announced. Because military regulations do not allow individual tickets to be sold on active bases, city officials came up with a way to incorporate the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars into the event. From the Florida Times-Union, “Tickets for the basketball game will be coupled with a Jaguars game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field the previous night and sold as sponsorships, beginning Monday. The sponsorships won’t come cheap. They start at $1,000 and are priced as high as $50,000. The starting price includes a pair of tickets to the basketball game, two to the Jaguars’ Thursday night game, and a donation of four tickets to the Jaguars game for military personnel.”
  3. On Tuesday, reigning national champion Kentucky released its non-conference schedule. While we knew there would be no Indiana, the home schedule features only one BCS opponent, Baylor, in a rematch of last season’s Elite Eight game. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish found several issues with the slate of games, opening his column with “Public relations is a tough business because it sometimes puts intelligent folks in a position to say or write ridiculous things in defense of, well, ridiculous things. Which brings me to the email that arrived this morning from the University of Kentucky announcing John Calipari’s non-league basketball schedule.It was, in part, headlined as follows: Wildcats face one of nation’s toughest schedules again. Um, no.But they will face Samford again!” He later cites message board posts titled “What a snoozefest for Rupp this year,” and “Probably the worst home [non-conference] schedule in Rupp history.” 
  4. Because of Missouri‘s jump to the SEC, they did not receive this year’s $12.4 million share of revenue from the Big 12, leaving the athletic program in a financial shortfall. According to the Kansas City Star, “the university will cover the debt and the athletic department will pay back the school starting in 2016.” In the same article Athletic Director Mike Alden “likened the situation to a bank providing a customer overdraft protection,” saying “Mizzou knows we’ll have an overdraft this year … and they’ll make sure all the bills are all covered,” he said. “But we’re going to start having to pay them back in three years.”
  5. As part of week-long series on the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, the Tampa Bay Times analyzed what the Tigers and Aggies will add to the SEC from a basketball perspective. The story quoted multiple established SEC coaches who sang the praises of the two programs. For example, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said, “I think the potential for this to be the best our league has been in quite a while is there. Certainly, I think if you poll the coaches across the league, you would hear consistently this could be a banner year for our league in terms of teams we get into the postseason.”
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Who’s Got Next? Pollard Picks Bama, Harrell Chooses Cards And More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on June 8th, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Top-30 Senior Devonta Pollard Commits To Alabama

McDonald's All-American Devonta Pollard Is A Huge Pick-up For Alabama. (Photo Credit: Kelly Kline)

Small Forward Is Lone Crimson Tide Commit. Class of 2012 small forward Devonta Pollard (#27) was the top unsigned prospect left in the senior class going in to Friday, but the Mississippi native became the latest top 75 player to come off the board when he committed to Alabama. The McDonald’s All-American chose the Crimson Tide over Georgetown, Missouri and Texas and is a guy with great athleticism and length and is a terrific finisher. He is very good in transition and is great above the rim. He is also able to finish with both hands and has a good pull-up jumper in the mid-range game. Pollard is a great shot-blocker as well for a wing and impacts the game on the defensive end. However, one of the biggest things he can improve on is his perimeter shooting. He can develop better range from beyond the three-point line and become more consistent from outside too. The 6’8, 192-pound wing is the lone commitment in the Class of 2012 for Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.

What They’re Saying

  • Standout senior Savon Goodman‘s high school coach, Rob Moore, on who leads for his prized player: “Looks like SMU and UNLV are leading the pack. He loved [SMU head] coach [Larry] Brown. This late in the game he could commit at any time.” Read the rest of this entry »
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